The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the psychology profession will grow by 14% nationwide between 2016 and 2026. In California, this rate is projected to be even higher, increasing by more than 20%. Factors contributing to this growth include an aging population, a better understanding of the need for mental and behavioral health services in schools, the increasing use of people analytics, and ongoing substance abuse crises.
Psychology programs in California consistently rank among the best in the nation, and aspiring psychologists who earn an online psychology degree in California may hold an advantage when it comes to filling local job openings. The heightened demand for psychologists in the coming decade is a part of a larger effort to address mental health issues before they become critical, and California remains at the forefront of this endeavor.
Mental Health Initiatives in California
Mental health problems affect nearly one in five people in the U.S. each year. As the nation's most populous state, California contains many people suffering from mental health issues and has a large burden in reaching these individuals and getting them help. In FY2016, the State Mental Health Authority for California served 530,645 patients; over this period, 4,979,257 individuals were served in the entire country. This means California treated more than 10% of all people who sought treatment for SMI (serious mental illness) or SED (serious emotional disturbance).
Since 2004, the state has operated under the Mental Health Services Act (Proposition 63), which allows the California Department of Mental Health to provide increased resources in support of county mental health programs for all groups, including children, transition age youth, adults, seniors, and families. Programs such as EPSDT (Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment) and PATH (Project for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness) continue to evolve and become more accessible. One major challenge the state faces is its densely populated cities combined with a shortage of psychiatric beds (approximately 14 beds per 100,000 people), which California's legislature is being urged to address.
How Do I Become a Psychologist in California?
The process of becoming a psychologist in California is similar to those in many other states, although the specific educational and training requirements may be different. It is important to look into requirements for different occupations prior to starting your program. As with most states, licensure as a psychologist in California requires a doctorate in psychology, supervised professional experience, and successful passage of the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). In addition, prospective psychologists in California must pass a supplemental exam: the California Psychology Law and Ethics Examination (CPLEE).
Choose the Path That's Right for You: While a few psychology careers, such as industrial-organizational psychologists, can begin with a master's degree, most require a doctoral degree. Psychology Ph.D programs in California prepare students for state licensure, which is a requirement for clinical or school psychologists. If you want to teach psychology, the exact educational requirements depend on the level you plan on teaching. For college instruction, a master's in psychology is the bare minimum, although most tenure-track positions require a research-focused Ph.D or clinical degree (PsyD).
Earn Your Degree: According to the National Center for Education Statistics, psychology ranks among the top five most-popular majors. A psychology degree prepares students for a range of careers, from market research to politics. It also sets aspiring counselors and therapists on an academic path toward an advanced degree. Students pursuing a doctorate or master's in psychology online in California have a wide selection of sites where they can complete their required internships. While some master's programs lead directly into a Ph.D or Psy.D program, students should expect to spend at least two years earning their master's and another four to six on their doctorate study.
Earn Your License: All licensed psychologists in California must take and pass the EPPP, which is a competency exam consisting of 225 multiple choice questions. To pass, testers must earn a minimum scaled score of 500, which translates to answering approximately 70% of the questions correctly. The curricula followed by students who earn an online psychology degree in California prepares them for this test, but individuals should still plan on spending a few hours a day studying for three months prior to their test date. The cost for the EPPP is $600; exam takers also need to cover fees owed to Pearson VUE (the testing site) and the California Board of Psychology.
Psychology Licensing in California
The state licensing requirements in California vary depending on the type of counseling career you choose. For example, a clinical psychologist and social worker do not take the same competency exam to earn their license. To help you better prepare for your desired career path and maximize your time in school, you can peruse the table below; this discusses the educational and experience prerequisites needed for five different licenses.
Prerequisites: Applicants must have earned one of three doctoral degrees from an approved or accredited educational institution: a doctorate in psychology, educational psychology, or education with a field of specialization in counseling psychology or educational psychology. They must also complete two years (3,000 hours) of supervised professional experience with at least 1,500 hours completed after they earn their doctorate. Applicants need to take and pass the EPPP and CPLEE.
Careers Available With This License:
- Social scientist
- Clinical director
Total Fees: $1,861.50
Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
Prerequisites: Applicants must earn a master's of social work and obtain 3,200 hours (minimum 104 weeks) of supervised work experience. At least 2,000 of these hours must come from clinical psychological assessment, diagnosis, counseling, and treatment, with 750 hours earned in face-to-face psychotherapy for individuals or groups. In addition, applicants must complete specific coursework and pass the CPLEE. After the state's Board of Behavioral Sciences approves the applicant's LCSW application, they can take the ASWB clinical examination, which consists of 170 multiple choice questions.
Careers Available With This License:
Marriage & Family Therapist (MFT)
Prerequisites: Applicants must have a master's or doctoral degree and complete additional coursework in eight areas specific to marriage and family therapy prior to taking the exam. A total of 3,000 hours of supervised work experience is also required. In addition to the LMFT examination, applicants must take and pass the CPLEE.
Careers Available With This License:
- Marriage counselor
- Family therapist
- Social service specialist
Total Fees: $505
LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor)
Prerequisites: Applicants must hold a doctoral degree. Note that online psychology degrees earned by California residents are considered to be out-of-state degrees; for licensure, you must go through a different set of steps. Applicants must also register as a Professional Clinical Counselor Intern (PCCI) and earn the required 3,000 supervised hours over a period of two or more years. During the first year, the LPCC law and ethics exam is taken. The National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam (NCMHCE) is taken after completing the required supervised hours.
Careers Available With This License:
- Counselor (substance abuse, behavioral)
- Social service specialist
Total Fees: $580
National Certified Counselor (NCC)
Prerequisites: Applicants must hold a master's in counseling with coursework in nine content areas specific to the field, including social and cultural foundations, assessment, and research. In addition, applicants must have proof of 100 hours of postgraduate counseling supervision and endorsement from a colleague who holds an advanced degree in mental health. Work experience must amount to 3,000 hours and applicants must pass either the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification or the NCMHCE.
Careers Available With This License:
- Career/school counselor
- Social worker
Total Fees: $195
Psychology Internships and Fellowships in California
Internships and fellowships help students pursuing an online psychology degree in California gain important experience. In general, internships are short-term, work-based positions that can be paid or unpaid; these opportunities tend to be open to undergraduate students. Alternatively, fellowships are typically tied to one's academic work. They generally include a stipend, can last multiple years, and focus on professional development. For example, a fellowship can be granted for an independent research project with no work component. Some fields also have fellowships that are basically internships and focus on providing practical work experience. In the field of psychology, this is the case for doctoral candidates, who must take on internships while studying. These internship experiences count toward the supervised experience requirements needed for licensure.
- CPMC Psychology Internship Program: This APA-accredited internship offers qualified students training in a scientist-practitioner model. All applicants must be enrolled in a doctoral program in psychology and have gained at least 500 assessment and/or intervention hours at the practicum level. Selected interns receive a stipend of $25,000 for the year.
- Kaiser Permanente Clinical Psychology Internship Training Program: Selected interns work in either Los Angeles or San Diego where they receive direct patient responsibility and a stipend of $27,000 per annum. To apply, you must have at least 500 hours of intervention hours and 75 assessment hours. This program has been APA-accredited since 1965.
- Department of Pediatric Psychology Fellowship (CHOC Children's): Orange County hospital awards up to six one-year, full-time postdoctoral fellowships in advanced training. There are four tracks: oncology, consultation and liaison, pediatric psychology, and epilepsy. Fellows receive $42,536 per year. Applicants must submit a letter of interest, CV, graduate school transcripts, letters of recommendation, and completed psychological test report.
Psychology Careers in California
The BLS projects that the number of psychology teachers in California will grow by 23.5% by 2024. Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists should also experience 21.4% growth, increasing the field by about 5,800 positions. With several of the nation's most populous cities (e.g., Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco), prospective psychologists can find good job prospects in metropolitan areas in California.
In 2015, California had the 6th largest GDP in the world; this was higher than most countries, including France, India, Italy, Brazil, and Canada. Its economic success is centered largely around Silicon Valley. This innovation and data hub is also a major contributor to the rise in people analytics, which is where industrial-organizational (I-O) psychologists can find opportunity and rapid growth.
How Much do Psychologists Make in California?
The average salaries of psychologists in California mirror those of the nation, with clinical, counseling, and school psychologists (the largest group) making less annually than individuals who work in the corporate world (I-O psychologists), private sectors, or the government (e.g., forensic psychologists). However, psychologists in California make nearly 20% more than the average psychologist in the U.S.
The wages for psychologists in California can be influenced by where one works (i.e., their employer and location) and their chosen field. Although most psychologists have similar educational backgrounds, they tend to stand out in other ways, such as through different credentials, distinctions, and/or published work.
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Mental Health Service Providers in California
Students who earn a master's in psychology online in California can go on to pursue their doctorate and gain state licensure. While finishing up their degree, students should start looking for employment opportunities at one of California's many mental health service providers, which range from private therapy offices to large psychiatric facilities.
- Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital: Based in San Diego, this 149-bed private psychiatric facility is the largest in the area. Programs address chemical dependency, substance abuse, eating disorders, and mental health support for veterans.
- Harbor View House: Located in the San Pedro community within Los Angeles, this organization is the largest nonprofit board and care facility for the mentally ill in California. It provides rehabilitative, nursing, and mental health care for more than 285 residents.
- Heritage Oaks Hospital: This acute psychiatric hospital provides inpatient and outpatient services for teens, adults, and seniors in northern California dealing with mental illness, addiction, and/or behavioral health issues.
- Contra Costa Mental Health: Part of Contra Costa Health Services, the mental health division helps those with psychiatric conditions go from "hope to recovery" and operates seven regional clinics: three for children/families, three for general adults, and one for older adults.
- Oakland Behavioral Health Clinic: This VA clinic provides treatment services for mental health and substance abuse issues, including individual and group therapy. Located in downtown Oakland, the clinic also operates an outreach program for the homeless.
Mental Health Research Centers in California
Research centers may be the best potential employers for aspiring research psychologists. Research or experimental psychologists work in areas like memory, motivation, and substance abuse. This type of work can aid a research center's mission to conduct studies and find solutions in the field of mental health.
- Mental Research Institute: Based in Palo Alto, this institute has been a proponent of the interactional model in family therapy since 1959. Its research has been repurposed around the world to solve human problems related to family, school, and business dynamics.
- Behavioral Health Center of Excellence: This UC Davis research center was launched in 2014 and serves as a national model for innovative neuroscience research. It focuses on the prevention and early intervention of mental illness. A similar center also opened on the UCLA campus.
- California Institute for Behavioral Health Solutions: This Sacramento-based nonprofit agency uses policy, training, evaluation, and research to improve the current state of mental health and substance abuse in California.
Professional Organizations for Mental Health Professionals
Even after many years of classes and training, starting a career can be daunting. One way to ease the transition from school to the professional world is to join a professional organization. While professional organizations provide value throughout one's career, they can be especially helpful to recent graduates. A professional organization affords its members several benefits, including internship opportunities and networking events. Members can also attend annual conferences, continuing education (CE) courses, and workshops, keeping them apprised of any changes in industry standards.
- California Psychological Association: Founded in 1948, this association advocates for the profession of psychology in California, sponsoring various legislative proposals related to mental health care services. Members gain access to listservs, presentations, training programs, and an annual convention in the spring.
- California Association of School Psychologists: This professional organization for school psychologists offers members benefits that include an annual spring conference, CE development, webinars, and a collective voice when it comes to CASP's legislative agenda, which advocates for education and related services for the children of California's schools.
- California Association for Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors: This membership-based organization advocates for counselors in California. Membership benefits include updates on LPCC licensure, consultations, networking opportunities, and discounts on CALPCC professional development activities (e.g., conferences and workshops).
Scholarships for Online Psychology Programs in California
California Psychological Association Foundation (CPA-F) Scholarship
This scholarship provides funding for minority graduate students working toward an advanced degree in psychology who aspire to soon join the profession's licensed psychologists, teachers, administrators, and researchers.
- Amount Offered: $2,000
- Scholarship Deadline: November
- Eligibility Requirements: Prospective applicants must 1) be from a recognized ethnic minority group, 2) have graduated from a regionally-accredited undergraduate institution, and 3) have been accepted into a doctoral psychology program. The application includes an essay detailing a student's career goals and three letters of recommendation.
Ronald D. Lunceford Scholarship
The California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists Educational Foundation offers three scholarships and one grant to support the graduate studies of students from cultural backgrounds underrepresented in the psychology profession.
- Amount Offered: $4,000
- Scholarship Deadline: January 5
- Eligibility Requirements: Applicants must be 1) a member of an ethnic or racial minority, 2) enrolled in an approved or accredited program, and 3) pursuing an advanced degree/certification beyond the qualifying degree for licensure.
Irwin L. Goldstein Scholarship
This Macey Fund scholarship, along with the Benjamin Schneider Scholarship, helps minority doctoral candidates in I-O psychology carry out their dissertation work and earn their degree. A direct stipend or deposit is available.
- Amount Offered: $3,000
- Scholarship Deadline: May
- Eligibility Requirements: Applicants must be 1) a student affiliate of SIOP and 2) a full-time Ph.D student studying I-0 psychology. Required documentation includes letters (from a doctoral advisor and/or chair of a program), a CV, and a brief summary of a student's dissertation research.
AFP Graduate Student Scholarships
This program provides 22 annual scholarships for student research. Applications are judged in large part on their research proposals and the context, clarity, research design, and overall importance of the study.
- Amount Offered: $1,000 to $5,000
- Scholarship Deadline: June 30
- Eligibility Requirements: To be considered, applicants must complete an online application. They must submit three letters of recommendation, a brief outline of their thesis or dissertation research project, and their CV.
George C. Thornton, III Graduate Scholarship
This scholarship provides financial assistance to I-O psychology doctoral students who best represent the principles of the Boulder model (i.e., the scientist/practitioner model), of which Dr. Thornton was a proponent during his career.
- Amount Offered: $3,000
- Scholarship Deadline: TBA
- Eligibility Requirements: To be considered, applicants must 1) be a student affiliate of SIOP, 2) be a Ph.D student in I-O psychology, and 3) demonstrate work that integrates I-O psychology and practice.
Heritage Dissertation Research Award
The Foundation for Personality and Social Psychology awards six grants for $1,000 each year to help with the costs involved in conducting dissertation research.
- Amount Offered: $1,000
- Scholarship Deadline: Fall
- Eligibility Requirements: Applicants must be graduate students in personal and/or social psychology and submit 1) a dissertation proposal, 2) a CV, 3) a letter of recommendation, and 4) an explanation of how funds will be used.
Outstanding Research Award
This award is for SPSP graduate student members. It recognizes outstanding research, as judged by student peers and/or faculty members. In addition to the award, recipients receive the opportunity to meet with a mentor of their choice at the annual convention.
- Amount Offered: $100
- Scholarship Deadline: Late summer
- Eligibility Requirements: Applicants must be student members of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology at the time of the award and must submit a summary (400 words max) of their research in the field.
Graduate Student Assistant Scholarship
NASP offers two scholarships to psychology graduate students who show an interest in working for the Public Policy Institute and have demonstrated the potential to be advocates for the field.
- Amount Offered: Complimentary registration
- Scholarship Deadline: April 20
- Eligibility Requirements: Students must present their case in written form to be considered.
SASP Diversity Scholarship
This scholarship supports Student Affiliates in School Psychology (SASP) members from underrepresented cultural backgrounds who aspire to work in psychology and are in the process of earning their master's or doctoral degree.
- Amount Offered: $1,000
- Scholarship Deadline: April 28
- Eligibility Requirements: Applicant must be an advanced master's/specialist or doctoral student entering their third, fourth, or fifth year of graduate training. They must also be preparing to complete their internship.
Created for graduate students studying neuropsychology, this scholarship helps cover research costs. Applications must be signed by the candidate's faculty mentor or director of training to verify the information provided.
- Amount Offered: $2,500
- Scholarship Deadline: June 1
- Eligibility Requirements: To be considered, candidates must have 1) completed their doctoral candidacy and 2) demonstrate research competence.
Accreditation for Online Psychology Programs in California
One of the first things students should look for when considering a school or degree program is its accreditation. Being accredited means that a higher learning institution has met or exceeded the quality standards required to receive and keep this designation. Accreditation can be regional or national.
Regional accreditation is currently granted based on location by accrediting bodies that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and CHEA (Council for Higher Education Accreditation). While regional accreditation is associated with nonprofit academic institutions, national accreditation tends to be given to for-profit entities or career-based schools, such as technical or vocational colleges.
The Western Association of Schools and Colleges accredits postsecondary public and private colleges and universities in California and Hawaii. Students interested in pursuing an online psychology degree in California should look for WASC accreditation, as well as field-specific accreditation by the American Psychological Association (APA), which accredits doctoral programs, internships, and postdoctoral residency programs.
Explore Psychology Careers
Program Database of Online Psychology Programs in California
Aspiring psychologists have an increasing number of programs to choose from as higher education institutions work to meet the projected need for more psychologists, counselors, and therapists over the next decade, and California is home to many of the top-ranked graduate psychology programs in the U.S. The following database contains all of the accredited online psychology programs in California and can help you find the school that best fits your academic and career goals.